Books slider — 18 August 2012

Review by

Chip Livingston

There are things readers have come to expect from a new Linda Hogan book, a garden of language tended to nourish coming generations; a story integrated with elements fertile as sacred soil and fluid as water subjected to gravity; the rendering of a majestic natural world traversed and troubled by its two-legged characters; and the instruction-by-example of humans awakening to how to walk the earth in a way of beauty. There is a constant resounding respect for the world of living, breathing things and for breath itself, life examined and celebrated on a cellular level, as integral as her attention paid to the elements of language and poetry. All of these essentials are here in Hogan’s latest, her twelfth published book: INDIOS, a book-length dramatic monologue that pushes us into new boundaries of a reading experience.

In this contemporizing of the Medea myth, the reader becomes a participant in Hogan’s text in a new way, standing in for the audience and the interviewer, Clare Finley, who is visiting our protagonist, Indios, in prison where she’s been incarcerated for allegedly killing her children. The entire book is a performance, a poem in direct address, set over a series of meetings in the prison with Indios speaking to Clare, to the reader, telling us the story of her life.

But Indios’ story is not just her own, as she makes clear in her response to the interviewer’s perceived question. “What does it mean, my name, Indios? / I am a Native woman.” As the starting point to understanding someone is to correctly name her or him, we are presented with Indios, whose name identifies all native peoples of the Americas.

Thus in her introduction, Indios immediately becomes a representation for multitudes of indigenous women, acting, as Lois Beardslee writes in the book’s foreword, “as an echo chamber for aboriginal women throughout history.” “The reader has no choice but to hear in Indios echoes of Malinche, wife of Cortez, simultaneously blessed as the mother of mestizos and cursed as a traitor to her people. Likewise we hear echoes of Pocahontas, of La Llorona, and ultimately, of Medea,” Beardslee continues.

Indios tells the interviewer in their first meeting, “I want you to know this is not only my story. / It is never the story of just one woman. / It is the telling of many worlds, peoples, and lands.” And as mentioned above, this text is based on myths about Medea, so this expanse of representation operates in timelessness. Hogan also clarifies in the book a preface that in researching the story, she found original parts of the Medea myth that weren’t included in Euripides’ Greek tragedy, specifically that Medea’s children “had been stoned by those who feared a mixed-blood child would come to power in their land.” And thus we have the plot set forth for Indios, a plot realized in the Americas at first contact between Native aboriginals and European conquerors.

Indios is a girl of 12 when she first sees the “shining man” who lands his boat near her home. She was bewitched, she tells us. “I was like one of the fish that jump from water / Not aware the birds are waiting / To swallow them.” … “I wanted to touch his hair, / Then his face. / When the golden man touched my hand to say Good-bye / Even my body deceived me with its feelings.”

Still a girl when she marries the golden man, Indios finds, “I was only a part of their game, an animal, a pawn. / When I learned what their game was, / I was a young leader’s wife, queen of dark hearts, / The aftershock of their history.” Becoming a queen and intermediary between her people and the colonists, Indios learns new roles, just as she learns the slippery moves of the introduced legal system. Indios’ father tells her they have cut down her people’s trees, and Indios confesses: “Legally they now belonged to my husband. / We hadn’t thought that word in marriage, ‘legal,’ / Or what it meant, his ownership of all of mine.”

Indios insists the interviewer not to look for her innocence. “Do not think that I am innocent, but know: / I did not kill my children.” Later, as her story continues, she tells us: “I was guilty by word alone.” But Indios takes blame for other acts she has committed and the consequences of her incarceration. “I went to them,” she says, “Not yet a human being in our world / And helpless against their laws. / I, who thought bringing home a trout / The greatest joy and spiders most beautiful, / was soon caught in the web of what I did not know. / Soon told to speak only their language, / To dress in their clothing, to step into their church / And try to believe.”

It is a story we all know, as indigenous people, of the colonizing of the Americas, but part of what is new here is the singular voice from which it’s told. Though Indios represents many women and many stories, she is an individual and her story is specifically hers, even as it borrows from the Medea myths. Medea “fell in love with Jason and promised to help him; but she was always only a ‘barbarian’ to him,” Hogan writes in the Works Cited section. She also states in the Author’s Preface, “Many years ago when I first heard the story of the woman Medea, I recognized it as the same story as that of an Indian woman who married a white man of power. It is a story from many of our histories. It is beauty married to tragedy and is common to all continents.”

The beauty that conquers tragedy is the awareness of knowing our histories and our people, of being able to tell, and retell, our universal and individual stories – and through this identity being able to correctly name and know ourselves. It’s this greater and self-awareness that helps us survive, by knowing who we are, just as Indios survives her life.

“No, I don’t look like you expected,” she tells the interviewer at their first meeting. “Life hasn’t hardened me here”/ … / … / Because, as Columbus wrote, / We were beautiful, alive, and generous. / When we were seen the first time, / He said we were In Dios. Of God. Dios. / I think of that. We were beautiful.”

We are beautiful. We are of God. And we have the beauty of our stories, the beauty of Linda Hogan and of Indios, through this miraculous creation of performance, poem, story, myth, and identification. INDIOS is a book you will experience in a multitude of ways.

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